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What are Pervasive Developmental Disorders?

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) are a group of conditions that involve various skill acquisition delays. The most common skills impacted are the abilities to communicate, use imagination and socialize with others.

Official Diagnosis

Pervasive developmental disorders are neuropsychiatric developmental disabilities. The two most famous of these are autism and Asperger Syndrome. These conditions consist of severe developmental difficulties related to social, cognition and communication functioning. Individuals with these disorders often have obsessive interests, abnormal routines or repetitive activities. Most behavioral experts and clinical psychologists feel these disorders have been under-diagnosed because of the wide variety of clinical presentations and patient outcomes. However, exaggerated film and television depictions of individuals with these conditions and increased parental awareness have resulted in a spike of pervasive developmental disorders diagnoses. There continues to be a debate whether autistic disorder and Asperger Syndrome are distinct or identical conditions.

Basic Condition Features

Pervasive developmental disorders cause social interaction and mental processing problems. This may include difficulties with the expression and understanding of body language, speech context and subliminal intent. It also includes the use of speech pitch, volume, timing and pitch variation. These individuals often experience difficulties expressing expressions and perceiving emotional meanings. These social challenges and communication problems may gradually appear in a variety of ways by the time the person is an adult. Individuals with low to normal IQs may remain severely impaired, so others may believe they are disabled. Those who have a higher intelligence, solid self-awareness and accurate insight into their difficulties may learn coping strategies. Therefore, high functioning people with a pervasive developmental disorder are challenging to discover.


People with pervasive developmental disorders will have obsessive interests and repetitive routines. These may manifest as non-functional obsessive activities and odd physical mannerisms. The interests among these individuals is quite diverse, especially those who are high-functioning and highly intelligent. These usually include intensely extreme interests in music, movies, sports, mechanics and electronics. The individual may become obsessed with only classic films, group sports, car engines or electronic clocks. There are no set standards for defining abnormal interests, so these individuals may be thought to have obsessive–compulsive personality disorder (OCD). Individuals may exhibit repetitive movements like hand tweaking, nose itching or eye blinking.

Social Dysfunctions

Social dysfunctions are often exacerbated by the fact that people with pervasive developmental disorders often have co-existing clinical conditions like anxiety or depression. The individual may experience extreme negative reactions to common social situations or interactions. This could include taking public transportation, meeting a stranger and speaking before a group. As a result, high functioning people with pervasive developmental disorders can become quite skilled at masking their social impairments. They may observe others to understand their nuances and habits, so they can adjust their own behaviors and avoid anxiety producing situations. Because of their social limitations, these intelligent people will pass up promotions and exciting opportunities because of their anxiety or discomfort.

Related Resource: Top 20 Best Applied Behavior Analysis Programs

Pervasive developmental disorders manifest themselves as neuropsychiatric conditions and developmental challenges. Fortunately, there are many helpful tools, techniques and resources to help people with this condition maintain normalcy and functionality.

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